City deals with Tahoe property problem
On the end of Saddle Road, above the rest of the city sits a lot of land – public land. It was a piece of property that not many people noticed, except when walking across it to get to Forest Service trails. Now the lot has a paved road that leads back to a modest cabin. At the end of the road sits a sign reading “private driveway.”
How did a public piece of land suddenly become private? It didn’t.
Like many things in the Tahoe Basin, this confusing scenario began with an environmental issue.
Janet McDougall, legal analyst for South Lake Tahoe, said the owner of the cabin approached the city looking for a more direct route to his home. The only access he had was by Lupine Road, a dirt road that was badly eroded, and not plowed in the winter. The solution was for the owner to get access from Saddle Road, a paved and maintained city street. But in front of the owner’s house was the lot, then owned by the U.S. Forest Service.
Forest Service and city officials, and the owner of the cabin got together and a plan was born. The Forest Service lot was transferred to the city in return for Lupine Road. The owner agreed to pay for his own paved drive across the lot and to restore vegetation to the now abandoned section of Lupine Road.
Dave Marlow, land staff officer for the Forest Service, said the plan was a good solution for everyone.
“It serves multiple purposes. It eliminated 600 feet of eroding roadway, which provides a long-term benefit, and provided significantly shortened access to the homeowner,” Marlow said.
After more than four years of work the project is nearing completion. Restoration work on Lupine is planned this fall. Now comes the tricky job of balancing the public’s right to use city property and the homeowner’s right to have unfettered access to his house.
McDougall said some problems arose when people, headed to the Forest Service trails beyond the lot, began using the drive as a parking lot. There are several popular mountain biking and hiking trails that begin near the end of Saddle Road.
“It’s not a public road. The homeowners paid to have that area paved. It is not a city street. The city will not be plowing or maintaining it,” McDougall said.
In response to the public’s use, the homeowners placed a barrier at the end of the road and the sign lending the appearance that the lot is private property.
“I understand what they’re trying to accomplish, but it’s not entirely appropriate. It is public land and they cannot interfere with the public’s right to walk across the property. I explained to them that we were going to have to correct the signage there and they understood that,” McDougall said. “We’re considering a sign that says authorized vehicles only. We have to try to balance the public’s rights with the environmental concerns.”
McDougall said she hopes a new sign will solve the problem without scaring off all public use.
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